Chinese authorities have released from detention the remaining employees of Australian casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd that were still in prison, the company said in a Monday filing.
The document stated that “the last of the 19 current and former employees of the Crown group who were detained in China have now been released”.
Commenting on the release, Crown Resorts’ executive chairman John Alexander said in a statement included in the filing: “Crown [Resorts] is pleased that all of our employees have now been released and reunited with their families and loved ones.”
The staff had been given jail sentences by a Shanghai court on June 26, based on allegations of “gambling-related crimes”.
Among those freed was Australian national Jason O’Connor, Crown Resorts’ executive vice president for international VIP business. He had been given a 10-month sentence by the Shanghai court.
The release of Mr O’Connor – which took place on Saturday – was confirmed to media by Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop. “Mr O’Connor is the last of three Australian Crown employees to be released following completion of their sentences,” Ms Bishop said in an emailed statement quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald.
At least 10 employees already had been released in July from a detention facility in Shanghai, according to media reports.
A total of 19 employees from Crown Resorts were detained by mainland Chinese authorities in the autumn of 2016. Several investment analysts stated in notes commenting on the case that the detentions were connected to marketing activities for the recruitment by Crown Resorts of high-value players in mainland China.
Of the 19 detained, 16 were eventually given jail sentences by a Shanghai court in June: 11 were sentenced to a period of incarceration of 9 months and five to a period of 10 months. The sentences were backdated to October 2016 when the defendants were first detained by Chinese authorities, meaning they only had a few more weeks to serve as convicted prisoners.
The 16 jailed defendants were also collectively fined a total of RMB8.62 million (US$1.29 million). Crown Resorts pledged to pay the amount “ex gratia”, the firm had said in a filing following June’s court decision.
Crown Resorts’ results for the year ended June 30 were hit by the downsizing of the company’s international operations, following the staff arrests in mainland China.
Crown Resorts had been known in the regional casino industry for its strength in VIP gambling, drawing customers from neighbouring Asia Pacific countries – including China – to its property in Melbourne, Victoria, and its venue in Perth, Western Australia.
Reuters news agency reported earlier this month that when Mr Alexander was asked about the link between the China arrests and the decline in Crown Resorts’ VIP play on a conference call with analysts, he replied: “We don’t intend to make any more comments about China”, adding that the company was reviewing its business model.
In May, Crown Resorts said it had completed the disposal of its remaining stake in Melco Resorts and Entertainment Ltd, a company that operates casino properties in Macau and in the Philippines.
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"I am not going to speculate on what the [casino licence refreshment] tender requirements would be. I have full confidence and faith in the Macau government to treat everyone fairly"
Wilfred Wong Ying Wai
President and chief operating officer of Macau-based casino operator Sands China